The 6th Circuit wrote in a 12-page opinion that the state of Michigan’s policy denying food assistance to those with outstanding felony warrants is unconstitutional.
At issue in the case is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps, and a state policy which bans people from receiving benefits who have fled prosecution for a felony. In an effort to catch such scofflaws, the State of Michigan in 2013 developed an automated program that compares the list of public-assistance recipients with a list of outstanding felony warrants maintained by the law enforcement information network.
In 2015, U.S. District Judge Judith Levy struck down the state’s database, concluding it wrongfully denied plaintiffs of their right to food aid because they were neither actively fleeing or avoiding prosecution for a felony.
The 6th Circuit agreed.
“The district court correctly declared invalid the Michigan fugitive-felon policy and the portions of Michigan statutes on which the policy was based,” the 6th Circuit wrote.
American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney Miriam Aukerman, who challenged the policy, along with the Center for Civil Justice, hailed the ruling as a big win for the thousands of individuals who automatically lost their benefits for crimes they may have had nothing to do with.
“Computers make mistakes. None of us want to have our lives ruled by some computer algorithm. What’s important here is the state can’t cut corners anymore. It can’t automatically cut off people from desperately needed assistance,” Aukerman said.
About 20,000 SNAP recipients will be getting retroactive benefits which will lead to large balances on those individuals’ EBT cards. Retailers should be aware that this influx of money will be occurring and prepare appropriately.
*portions of this article are from an August 26th 2016 Detroit Free Press article written by Tresa Baldas